A longtime reader and IRL friend says I should write a GIFT GUIDE so guess what it’s a new holiday tradition: A GUIDE TO BADASS HOLIDAY GIFTS WRITTEN BY SOMEONE WHO CRITICALLY STUDIES CAPITALISM FOR A LIVING BUT WHO ALSO WANTS COOL SHIT
Subscriptions!!!!! I think subscriptions are very fun. They aren’t called “the gift that keeps on giving” for nothing!Here’s what I would subscribe friends to:
Friends who are interested in cinema: There is this really cool movie streaming website called https://mubi.com that you could subscribe your friend to. Basically they offer only 30 films each month, and once the month is over, those films are replaced by other films. And the selection itself is really cool and varied—really arty stuff, weird Italian horror films, forgotten B movies, all manner of foreign films both canonical and unknown, but then also like The Darjeeling Limited or something, some mainstream hollywood thing. Right now they’re showing Godard but also Evil Dead II for example. It’s so fun in this day and age to have your movie choices constrained. You really just look at this short list and pick one more or less at random, knowing that the next time you log on there will probably be a bunch of new stuff on there. We’ve discovered so many cool-ass movies this way; literally the only reason we talk about getting internet in our house again is so that we could re-subscribe to Mubi. It’s like six bucks a month.
friends who talk mournfully about how they don’t know where to get news and cultural commentary in this terrible day and age: subscribe them to Dissent! They will love it. It’s good, serious, many of the articles are surprisingly well researched given it’s not an academic journal. Lots of awesome women contributors. NOT BROCIALIST like Jacobin, I promise. They also have film reviews, which I never read. Gimme those hot Marxist takes. They also publish lists of forthcoming lefty books from various academic and radical presses and you can tear this page out and carry it around with you and one day buy those books.
In fact you could subscribe some of your more thoughtful yet Republican family members to Dissent and see what happens?? I’d be interested to hear the results of this experiment. I would imagine that someone who is pro-Trump not so much out of overt racism but more out of a sort of nihilistic if ill-informed despair about what garbage both our existing political parties are would be well primed to have a massive epiphany if they read some Dissent article about deindustrialization or something. Then again who knows. Anyway keep me posted on this.
We subscribed my mother in law to Audible, so she could listen to books on all the trips she has to take for work. I don’t think she uses it but I stand by this gift concept.
Okay other stuff
Fun nice socks. My wonderful friend who died two summers ago was in the habit of sending me fun nice socks periodically and in many respects I find this to be a perfect gift. (a) it’s the kind of thing I will NEVER think to buy for myself and yet (b) when you have a pair of fun nice socks, you sure are happy about it! I have so many pairs of fun nice socks from her and I think of her every time I wear them. By “fun and nice” I mean: actually good sturdy comfortable socks, but also interesting in some way, like wild colors and patterns. Put a pair in everyone’s stocking!
I wish my cooler friends would make me playlists of cool brand new music I could listen to in order to seem “hip” in front of my students. HINT HINT
My best friend gave me an extremely belated wedding gift I think four years after my actual wedding, and it was a “nice-ass scented candle,” and I loved it so much and still miss it now that it is all burned away. It was truly an expensive candle, in a handsome smoked brown glass holder, and it smelled incredible and I loved it. Like so I’m saying you could just really fucking go for it, w/r/t scented candles, and get somebody like a $60 one and just really max it out.
Similarly you could go the opposite direction and get somebody a bunch of absurd Yankee candles with scents like “blue jeans” and “a day at the beach” and “cherries on snow” and they all smell like Barbie vomit but they are very funny, and then your friend could re-gift them to a family member they secretly hate
My sweet friend who takes amazing photographs and has a very beloved instagram account of such photos (should say “had” because she has recently quit social media for mental health reasons, which I support) was sending me pictures of blown-up prints of these photos she’d framed in shitty Target frames. They looked AMAZING. I said I would pay 100 bucks for one but instead she texted me and said I could pick up two of the prints at the Walgreens by my house tomorrow morning after 9. What a fun way to use contemporary technology to give a friend a gift! You could send a hilarious (or beautiful) photo to a Walgreens by your distant friend’s house and then enigmatically text them telling them when/where to pick it up (but don’t tell them what it is).
Elaborate board games are a good gift for a very particular kind of person (I realize not everybody likes board games). Good board games are expensive! And there are so many of them now that it can be hard to know what to choose. You could do all the research, read the board game forums, and purchase your gaming friend a classy game. The classiest most epic and expensive and elaborate game we have gotten most recently is CAVERNA and it takes half an hour just to set the board up. It’s badass. If you and your life partner like Caverna but none of your friends will play it with you because it’s too elaborate and exhausting, you could get your partner Cave to Cave, which is a very very good two-player version of Caverna. Also a solid Settlers of Catan expansion pack is a timeless gift that shall never go amiss.
If you have a friend who already loves Catan or Caverna or whatever, look on etsy because there are all these weirdos who make (a) beautiful wooden cases for the games with niches and boxes for all the pieces so you don’t have to be forever packing and unpacking all the ratty plastic bags and (b) extremely beautiful wooden carved versions of the games themselves. The other night I fell down a hole of looking at all the different approaches people have taken to designing their own wooden Catan boards, and they are GORGEOUS. They are like $300 though so this is probably a group gift where you all pitch in
We’ve been playing a really fun collaborative game called BLOC BY BLOC that an anarchist group made and is currently troubleshooting. This would be a great game for the person in your life who is both a radical leftist and a board game freak. You play all together, collaborating on strategy for each person’s turn. Instead of pieces or characters or whatever you play as blocs of “Neighbors,” “Prisoners,” “Workers,” and “Students.” The goal of the game is to occupy key parts of the city (“overcrowded jail,” “underfunded university”) by attacking police vans and expelling riot cops. You can loot, take the metro, donate groceries, use your “molotov” cards to strengthen the power of your attack actions, etc. When you liberate a neighborhood you get cool extra powers. The game lasts 9 “nights”—all night, you move your blocs around, plan your strategy, etc., then when day comes the police attack, and you do it all over again. It is a VERY HARD AND FRUSTRATING GAME, much like occupying a city in real life. But then when you actually win it is crazy how exhilarating it is, everyone screaming and wildly laughing and chanting FUCK THE COPS
I really want a Nintendo Wii U (is that how you spell it) so I can play the new Zelda.
Thanks to readers of this blog, I now have Cheryl Mendelsohn’s book about house care, and I gift it to friends when they buy a house, which has happened twice. Do you know somebody who just bought a house? Give them this book! Or I mean, you can give it to anyone; I just like the symbolic value of the book/home buying occasion. This book would also be appropriate for a friend who has been complaining in despair about how they wished they were better at keeping up with housework. Cheryl will help you turn this into an art that is interesting and satisfying.
ROBE: One thing I lately can’t stop thinking about and wanting is old vintage Pendleton (or Pendleton-like) robes, specifically ones that are not plaid. These are hard to find and usually are very expensive. But damn, if you got your loved one some badass wool non-plaid bold-print profoundly cozy and beautiful robe from the 50s or whatever? That’s a classy-ass gift if you ask me. In terms of new robes there are these Missoni Home ones with wild prints. This would be a very expensive gift, probably only appropriate to give to a life partner, unless you are a rich asshole in which case why not give one to everyone you know? Happy to send my mailing address to any rich assholes who read this blog.
Here is something I feel strongly about: RESEARCHING ELECTRONICS PURCHASES. Every time I have to buy electronics I get the cold sweats. I hate it so much. I don’t know what I’m looking for or how to tell what is reliable or even which features I actually want or which company uses the least amount of slave labor in its overseas supply chain. A camera, a phone, a computer, an external harddrive, a projector, a bluetooth speaker, these are all things that I have at one time or another had to purchase and just thinking about it makes me queasy. Are you good at this kind of thing? Do you have a stressed out Luddite friend who needs a new phone and is working herself up into a tizzy about it? But you feel like you know her pretty well and will be able to accurately figure out what is best for her? OFFER TO DO THE SHOPPING. Maybe you don’t even purchase the electronic item in question; you just identify it and send her a link. This one is very specific to one particular beautiful friend of mine who has done this for me many times and honestly it is SUCH a good gift for a particular kind of personality (mine). He is so good at it and smart and knows all the things to look for and can tell what is quality and what is crap. He will send you a link and you can be confident in simply clicking it and entering your credit card information. It is a blessing.
Fancy art books!
Beautiful homemade or otherwise unusual tarot card deck, or weird novelty deck. I really want the Wagner Ring Cycle tarot and I keep balking at buying it because it’s just a little too expensive. There’s an Edward Gorey deck I also want.
Is there an old person in your life who talks all the time about how she wants to understand technology better? I’ll just say that my mother actually did that thing where you pay for classes at the Apple store, and she LOVED IT and still raves about it to this day. She learned a lot and just loved all those nice young people who were so helpful. Budget version: offer to sit with your mom (or equivalent person) for a couple of hours and try to explain stuff to them and answer all their internet questions. I wouldn’t do this because I’m like barely one step ahead of my mom on this stuff, but I sometimes volunteer my old man. Anyway it’s nice.
Gifts revolving around cooking and baking is a gift category I like more and more these days. My brother gave me a cast iron cookware kit for my 40th birthday and it’s great. Or if you have a friend who wants to get into bread baking, you could compile a bread-based collection: the original Tartine sourdough book, a food scale, a dough knife, and either a pizza stone or a big nice old vintage cast iron dutch oven (like a 6-9 quart one) (Tartine book is dutch oven based; other sourdough books rely on pizza stone. I use both)
Similarly, I feel like more and more I am meeting people who want to get into home fermentation, so you could get them Sandor Katz’s book (“Wild Fermentation”) and one of those pickling kits where it’s a big crock and those nice fitted weights. I don’t own such a kit—I just use mason jars and jelly jars and it works but it sure doesn’t look very nice; I wouldn’t mind some proper crocks and weights. If you really want to go all out you should search “fermentation crock” on etsy—there’s this person who makes INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL ones that also have this cool fitted lid that fits into a moat where you can put water, it creates a seal so that nothing can get IN to the crock but gas can still get OUT, by “burping” the lid up and down. They are like $100 and I am going to buy myself one soon, someday. It’s mostly for dumb aesthetic reasons—in the summer when I am pickling plus making kombucha it’s like the whole counter is lined with a motley assortment of jugs and jars covered with tattered ol’ rags I’ve scrounged from the drawer of dusting rags and maybe it would give me a dumb hipster thrill to replace that assortment with handsome purpose-made pottery. Anyway, just a suggestion
Same with cider or beer making—has your friend been talking about this? Get them a kit! Sometimes the main barrier to getting into something is just feeling exhausted when you think about researching and compiling all the equipment. Get your friend a carboy, a hose, a bucket, a packet of yeast, and a lid with an airlock and tell them to go for it! Our cider is blooping down in the basement right now and it is fun.
I would like to receive a food dehydrator as a gift.
More kits: worm composting kit! My friend Jessica just texted saying someone had gifted this to her and I thought, what a cool gift! I mean you’d obviously need to have heard the friend talking about this—I don’t think you want to randomly drop a composting kit and a yogurt container full of red wrigglers on a friend who had never thought of such a thing before. But like, getting into worm composting is intimidating and it would be great to have the bin already kitted out, and a book on it, and the aforementioned yogurt container full of worms.
In addition to objects, you can facilitate experiences for your loved ones!
Experiences I would enjoy being given in gift form:
-hot air balloon ride
-90 minute massage
-really expensive haircut at some fancy place I’m too timid to even know about on my own
-sound bath at the Integratron (if your friend lives in Southern California only)
-once my friends gave me a vegan baking class at a fancy vegan restaurant and I learned SO MUCH.
-Gift certificate to expensive restaurant?? I don’t really know but that seems like maybe a cool thing
-Concert tickets? I would like to be gifted tickets to the Met or something. Other people who aren’t dreadful nerds might enjoy something like tickets to see Beyonce or something, some huge show you maybe wouldn’t buy tickets to because it seems too expensive or crazy. Or maybe even a novelty half-joke concert that is also actually really amazing, like our friend goes to see Hanson all the time and cries every time. Or like at the last minute someone randomly gives you tickets to go see U2 and you think it’s so stupid and you are jaded and ironic and you don’t care at all about U2 and you intend to make fun of it the whole time but then you go and it’s actually an overwhelming spectacle that you really get into and even actually cry during at one point (very specific experience I personally had but do not regret)
-We gave my dad a bunch of free tickets to his favorite movie theater and he still talks about it.
-I used to date a guy who would do elaborate treasure hunts for me and it was really fun. He’d hide clues all over and I’d have to solve them to find the next one. The clues were usually written as pirate-themed rhyming riddles. And then ultimately they’d finally lead to, like, a bag of peanut m&ms hidden in the washing machine. This is a fun experience you could gift your loved one and it doesn’t cost a thing (or, it costs as much as a bag of peanut m&ms costs). Could also be a great way to propose to somebody (simply replace the bag of peanut m&ms with a diamond ring or other mutually understood token of engagement). IMPORTANT: your loved one needs to be in the right mood for this; one time my boyfriend had set one of these hunts up but when I came over I was super stressed out and in a hurry/bad mood but he made me do it anyway and I was very ungracious about it. “What the fuck does this one mean? ‘Shiver ye timbers?’ That’s not how you say that.” If it had led to a diamond ring I would surely have said no (for many reasons but my bad mood wouldn’t have helped)
-Sports Game Tickets. I do NOT want this (do not DARE give this to me) but other people obviously would. “I got you two tickets to the upcoming Sports Game in our town, the seats are right on the floor or whatever is considered good!” Friend: “oh boy I fuckin love sports”
-Related: vintage merchandise for your friend’s Sports Team of choice. Do they like the Ohio Avalanches? The Los Angeles Runner Guys? The New England Racist Assholes? Get them some weird thing from the 1980s related to that team.
-Haunted house tour